Friday, September 5, 2008

Dancing to the spirit

Last night, I went with the Olney dance class to see photographer Rose Eichenbaum's exhibit "The Dancer Within" at the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling. Eichenbaum spoke to us and took us to look at some of her photographs.

I didn't expect this to be a spiritual experience, but it was. (There was also a lovely buffet and wine bar, so we were well taken care of in both body and soul.)

The Stifel Fine Arts Center is in a beautiful, turn-of-the-last-century mansion set amid lovely grounds with a reflecting pool. Eichenbaum was a riveting and inspiring speaker, who clearly loves her work. She talked about how she was encouraged by Dance Magazine to photograph choreographers, a project that eventually turned into a book. As she began the project, she decided that she couldn't take good portraits of these artists until she got to know them a little, so she would spend an hour or more interviewing them before she started photographing them.

In her exhibit, she captioned her photos with quotes from the interviews about what inspired these men and women to dance and to choreograph. Several spoke of the desire to express spirituality through movement, and of the desire to touch audiences on a deep level with their art. Many spoke of how sensitive they are to audiences and how important the reaction of the audience is to what they do. Most said dance was something they had to do, no matter what the cost. They simply couldn't not dance. Regina, when I read your comment about having to blog, I thought of them and about how artistic expression, in whatever form, is such a deep part of who we are. For some people--and perhaps for many people-- the practice of religion is part of their artistic (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) expression of their spirituality and humanity. I think that's why religious rituals, be they Orthodox Catholic or the Quaker practice of silent worship, are so beautiful. Through them, people express the deepest parts of the their souls. And with my suspicion of everything the dominant culture states as fact, I believe the more the culture tells us that dance or poetry are a waste of time, the more we need to embrace these activities as supremely important in helping us become fully human and thus fully reflecting the image of God.

I have that learned that community is essential to religion, and so felt that, in their desire to connect deeply with audiences, these great dancers and choreographers were, in their own way, creating religious communities that they hoped would change people's lives. This was so interesting to me, because I've tended to think of dancers as possibly narcissists or at least as dancing in a private world and for themselves. But, in fact, the greatest of them don't feel fulfilled until they have touched another person's life.

Because dance has been so much a part of Sophie's life, and more recently, the life of Elena, the daughter of our friends Bill and Johanna, I have felt a growing closeness to the dance world, and that made this exhibit more meaningful to me.

I drove to Wheeling with a young student whom I was delighted to get to know better. At 15, she could be a model to many adults on generosity of spirit. Although she has come to Olney because of a bad experience at a right-wing Christian school, where she felt judged and condemned, she open-heartedly refuses to judge and condemn evangelical Christians.

I also drove with Jaya, the new admissions assistant at Olney. She's a Quaker from Canada. I really, really like her. After our experience at the exhibit, she and I decided to start a writing group at Olney (we had talked of this before, but not with serious intention), which I hope will be like the Quaker writing group I left behind in the Columbia. We meet for the first time on Sunday.

Take care everybody.

1 comment:

Regina said...

Oh my, sounds wonderful, Diane...